The peculiar history of the Teddy Bear began with a hunting expedition involving President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was well known for his success as a hunter, but happened to be failing at this widely publicized event. Out of concern for his image, his guides actually captured a bear and tied it to a tree so he could shoot it. Roosevelt refused. Clifford Berryman’s cartoon in the Washington Post portrayed the story about “Teddy’s Bear”, a concept later transformed into the highly marketable “Teddy Bear” of stuffed animal fame.
This story shows an interesting contrast between image and self-image. Roosevelt’s refusal wasn’t about kindness to bears, it was about knowing who he was, in this case, a hunter. Shooting a bear tied to a tree isn’t hunting. Shooting a captured bear wasn’t only a “shortcut”, it was an act that would undermine his sense of who he was. While his handlers were worried about their President’s “Great Hunter” image, Teddy Roosevelt was thinking about his self-image. He knew that this was the kind of thing that would destroy it.
Shortcuts in Busy World
Shortcuts are incredibly tempting. In our busy world, time and effort come at a premium which makes this business of shortcuts incredibly lucrative. In lieu of good food, we have fast food. If it raises our cholesterol, we’ve got pills to knock it back down, saving us the diet and exercise. If we gain weight, there are diet pills and surgeries. Instead of sleep there’s coffee. In lieu of counseling there are sedatives. If we can’t afford to live a luxurious life, someone will lend us the money to make it seem so. The end product may look the same: the work gets done, the moods get stabilized, the appearance gets improved and the car is a real eye-catcher. But through it all we remain the same. You can always tell a shortcut because it improves the image before the person, leaving the self-image lagging behind.
We’re going to take some shortcuts–it’s hard not to. But perhaps these furry little bears can remind us that image is of little value if there is no self-image to support it. And what better symbol than a child’s Teddy Bear to remind us that we can’t give our children anything that we don’t already have, and that whatever hills we choose to climb will give them the courage to climb mountains.
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